If you can make a pot roast, you can make chicken tagine. Believe me when I say that Moroccan cooking is as easy to learn and embrace as our own favorite one-pot family meals. At least, that’s what I learned from my cooking class with Chef Tarik Ait Yahya at Atelier De Cuisine, an organic farm and cooking school just outside of Marrakech, Morocco, this past June.
I’d admit it. At first I was skeptical of this prearranged cooking class. If you’re nodding your head with me now, then I know for sure you’ve done the cheesy holiday cooking class. As a chef, I’m always entertained, but generally, I find them dull and very hands-off. Not this time. We literally got our hands dirty.
photo provided by Atelier de Cuisine
But before I dive into the organic garden where we picked our produce, or the village walk, or fresh bread making or the various recipes we made, first let me paint the scene for you. Take a seat. Imagine you’re sitting down on a very colorful Berber carpet. Take your shoes off. First, there will be a tea lesson with our tea master, Hassan.
If you didn’t catch my post from last week, you’ll find that this was one of the six reasons I fell in love with Moroccan cuisine and culture. Not only did Hassan serve us one of the most elegant teas I tasted while visiting Morocco, but he also taught us the six essential steps to making delicious mint tea…
- Add loose leaf green tea to a small tea pot. For 3-4 people, about 3 teaspoons.
- Add hot (basically lightly simmering) water mid-way up the pot.
- Put the pot back on the charcoal (or in our case the burner) for about 4 minutes or until it boils. Take it off the heat at this point.
- Add your herbs (mint primarily but you can also use lemon verbena, lemon grass, absinthe, sage, or marjoram as well), plus sugar (about 3 cubes). The sugar keeps the mint from turning black and “burning.”
- Do not use a spoon to mix! The Moroccan way it to pour a glass; then pour that glass back into the pot on top, which helps mix up the tea. Do this several times to get a good but gentle mix. Check on one of the last pours that you’re getting good bubbles when you pour the tea. Hassan says that means the sugar has melted.
- Hold the pot close to the glass and then get higher and higher away until you’ve poured a frothy cup of tea (big foam!). And say, “bisaha” as you toast your friends, which means “good health” in arabic!
Atelier de Cuisine, Jardin Potager Bio, was started by Chef Tarik Harabida, a culinary veteran with 27 years in the industry. He had a dream of teaching visitors how delicious and healthy his cuisine was by bringing them to a self-sustaining organic vegetable garden where they could pick their ingredients, work as a team, and learn the fundamentals (with a modern twist or two) of cooking like a true Moroccan at home. What I love most about this organic teaching farm and cooking school is that it gives women of the village sustainable work–making local cheeses and breads served at the class, among other ways they support one another.
What made our class truly memorable was the way our teacher, Tarik Ait Yahya, made us feel confident that we could master his cuisine by breaking it down into 4 easy-to-remember spice combinations. That was all we needed to know for the day to master the recipes we’d be making. Wait for it. You will fall off your chair when you hear this. Chicken tagine with preserved lemons and green olive has only two dried spices in the recipe besides salt and pepper. Can you guess what they are?!!
No, it’s not cumin or paprika or cinnamon or sumac. Ginger and turmeric–even I can remember that combo–is all you need! Well, of course we also flavored our dish with diced onion, fresh lemon juice, garlic, cilantro, parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper. And it works. How do I know it wasn’t just a crazy vacation memory? I tested the recipe this week in my home kitchen. To the best of my vacation memory it went like this…
First the chicken goes into the tagine. Don’t make the mistake I did back at home and ignore Tarik’s suggestion to use a mix of pieces. Go for dark meat cuts + the breast. Dark meat is where the flavor’s at ya’ll.
Then, you top it with your diced red onion, minced garlic, lemon juice, spices, and a few heaping pinches of cilantro and parsley.
And as I shared last week, make it look beautiful since Moroccans eat with their eyes first, by topping it with your preserved lemon slices, olives, and a little sprig of parsley.
In just 45 minutes, without fuss or stress, you’ve got a succulent and tender chicken tagine that’s oozing with flavors that make you feel like you’re on a Mediterranean island (and in our case in Morocco, with sweltering heat)! The dish is sublime as is, or you can serve a simple couscous on the side to sop up all of those succulent juices at the bottom of the tagine.
And of course, if we’re really cooking like true Moroccans, there will be plenty of beautiful vegetable sides to complement our meaty dish. But I’ve got to save some of this deliciousness for my post next week when I’ll be sharing Tarik’s favorite Moroccan summer salad of charred green peppers and juicy summer tomatoes.
- Chicken (skinless), four pieces of white and dark meat
- Red onion, 1
- Ground ginger, 1 tsp.
- Turmeric, 1 tsp.
- Salt, approximately ¼ tsp.
- Black pepper, ¼ tsp.
- Lemon juice from 1 lemon
- Garlic, 2 cloves
- Olive oil, 3 TBS.
- Cilantro, ¼ cup
- Parsley, ¼ cup
- Preserved lemon, 1
- Green olives, ½ cup
- Take 5 minutes to get out all your ingredients, measuring and cooking equipment needed, and place them on a cookie sheet within easy reach.
- Wash all produce.
- Dice onion and set aside.
- Mince garlic and place into a small bowl with the juice of the lemon.
- Rough chop cilantro and parsley, and measure out the spices, and salt and pepper into a bowl.
- Rinse preserved lemon under water to remove excess salt. Then cut into quarters and remove pulp, keeping the peel only.
- Drain olives from their juice.
- Place chicken into tagine first (meat side up).
- Top with red onions.
- Pour lemon juice and minced garlic on top.
- Sprinkle fresh herbs, olive oil and spices next over the top.
- Lastly, top with the preserved lemons and olives. You can add a few extra sprigs of parsley on top.
- Over medium low heat, cook for about 10 minutes. Remove cover and flip chicken pieces over to ensure they’re getting heat on all sides. Add about ¼ cup water and mix together.
- Continue cooking over low heat for another 35 minutes. About mid-way through this cooking time, flip and baste chicken again with the accumulated juices in the tagine.
- Enjoy served alongside your favorite preparation of couscous and moroccan salads. To the top of our couscous, we’ve added some caramelized onion and about ¼ cup of rehydrated yellow raisins I cooked in a pinch each of cinnamon, cayenne, sugar and water--for a little extra fun.
- When we tested this dish back in my home kitchen, we made the mistake of only using two bone-in chicken breasts. Our tagine is quite small, and this fit perfectly. However, I’d always advise a mixture of dark and white meat to provide maximum flavor for this dish. Next time, I’ll be going for 4-6 chicken thighs vs. two chicken breasts. Dark meat has more flavor! In addition, really watch the amount of salt you put in your dish. Preserved lemons and olives are full of salt and flavor, without the need to add salt to this dish.
- If you do not have a tagine, you can use a Dutch Oven. The conical shape of the tagine allows for moisture to circulate in a way that creates a deep flavor and holds the moisture in the meat. However, this is just a low and slow cooking method, which a dutch oven can handle well, as it holds a nice seal and conducts heat evenly.